Science Has Spoken, The Case Is Closed


Two years ago - has it really been that long? - I wrote a quick piece for TNR Online arguing that conservatives who embrace "intelligent design" are playing into their enemies' hands. Here's the nut graf:

In the long run, though, intelligent design will probably prove a political boon to liberals, and a poisoned chalice for conservatives. Like the evolution wars in the early part of the last century, the design debate offers liberals the opportunity to portray every scientific battle--today, stem-cell research, "therapeutic" cloning, and end-of-life issues; tomorrow, perhaps, large-scale genetic engineering--as a face-off between scientific rigor and religious fundamentalism. There's already a public perception, nurtured by the media and by scientists themselves, that conservatives oppose the "scientific" position on most bioethical issues. Once intelligent design runs out of steam, leaving its conservative defenders marooned in a dinner-theater version of Inherit the Wind, this liberal advantage is likely to swell considerably.

I think this argument hold up rather well, and I thought of it while reading Jerry Coyne's attack on Sam Brownback, which contains various unobjectionable points about the nature of science and so forth, but then arrives at this conclusion:

What happens if scientific truth conflicts with a politician's "spiritual truth"? This is not a theoretical problem, but a real one, as we see in debates about stem-cell research, abortion, genetic engineering, and global warming. Ignorance about evolution may be widespread, but it's not nearly as dangerous as dogmatic certainty about the real world based on faith alone.

Uh-huh. I'm very curious to know what the "scientific truth" about abortion, stem-cell research and genetic engineering happens to be. (Somehow I assume it tracks remarkably well with liberal policy prescriptions on those issues.) But here's the thing - whenever conservatives attack a scientific consensus because they don't like its moral and political implications and don't have adequate firepower to carry the day (which the intelligent-design crowd doesn't, to my mind, in its battle against Darwinian theory), they make it that much easier for folks like Coyne to wrap their own moral convictions in the mantel of absolute scientific truth and caricature anyone who disagrees with them as "anti-science" yahoos. And you don't win many debates, in a society as mad for technological progress as ours, if you find yourself cast as an enemy of Science.

Just something for the Sam Brownbacks and Mike Huckabees to consider ...

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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